Theme: “You Must Be Born Again”
In this week’s lessons we look at the story of Jesus and Nicodemus, and learn of the need to be born again, which can only happen by the sovereign working of God through the Holy Spirit.
Scripture: John 3:1-3
Nicodemus comes and he tries to begin this religious discussion by saying to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know you’re a teacher who has come from God, and the way we know it is this: Nobody could perform all these miracles that you’re doing if God weren’t with him.” But you notice that Jesus does not interact with Nicodemus on that point. Rather, he responds, “I tell you the truth, unless a man is born again, he can’t even see the kingdom of God.”
What John is telling us here is that even the most outstanding people we know need to be born again. It’s as clear as that. Nicodemus needed to be born again. God had to do a special work in his heart in order that he might understand and be able to respond to the gospel, and it is the same for you and me. If Nicodemus, with all his position and learning and morality was unable to get to heaven by his own efforts, it is certain that you and I are not going to get to heaven by our own efforts. God has to do that work in our hearts.
So Jesus began to teach him. The first thing that Jesus said is, “You must be born again.” Now Jesus was presumably speaking in Aramaic, rather than in Greek, which is the language John is using to write his Gospel. So you have a difference of translation since two different languages are involved. But it is significant that in Greek John uses the word anothen when he talks about being born again rather than an alternative Greek word, which is the word palin.
Now the reason I make that point is that those two Greek words convey two different things. Both of them can be translated “again.” But if you use the word anothen, it carries certain overtones with it that are very important in this context. The first is that the word anothen can also be translated “from above.” So when Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again,” he was not merely saying you have to be born again; you were born once and now you have to be born again. He was saying you have to be born from above. Once you were born physically; now you have to be born from above, that is, you have to be born spiritually from God. Nicodemus, as we discovered, didn’t understand what Jesus was saying, but that’s what Jesus was teaching. You have to have a spiritual birth.
The second point is that the word anothen has another connotation, which is a bit harder to explain. Not only does that word mean “from above,” but it means from above, with the same source as the original act had. Now the reason that’s important here, you see, is that when Jesus tells Nicodemus that he has to be born again from above, he means that God is the source of that rebirth, just as God is the source of Nicodemus’ physical birth, which takes us back to the doctrine of creation.
When God created man he breathed into Adam, causing him to become a living soul. That was the first birth, when God created man and gave me physical life. And what Jesus is saying to Nicodemus is that now he needs a birth that is analogous to that. God himself, the source of the original birth, now has to breathe spiritual life into Nicodemus. When God breathed into Adam, Adam became not only physically but spiritually alive; he had communion with God. That spiritual communion is the life that we forfeited by our sin, when Adam rebelled by eating of the forbidden fruit and broke the law of God. Because of Adam’s sin we are all born spiritually dead.
Until God puts his breath of spiritual life into Nicodemus, he can’t enter into the kingdom of God. Nicodemus didn’t understand that, and it’s perfectly evident why he didn’t understand it. Why didn’t Nicodemus understand when Jesus said, “You must be born again”? Because Nicodemus wasn’t born again. That’s why he didn’t understand it, and so Jesus went on to teach him about it.
How does Nicodemus begin his conversation with Jesus? How does Jesus answer, and why does he respond that way?
What Greek word does Jesus use to teach Nicodemus of his need to be born again? Why does he use that particular word?
Reflection: What kinds of things do people today rely on for their relationship with God?